June 1, 2005
Can Of Corn
No Walks for You
If I were to enter the admittedly subjective debate over the "smartest organization in the American League," I'd cast my lot, without hesitation, with the Minnesota Twins. They've thrived despite prohibitive payroll restrictions, and they've also taken an organizational tack that's decidedly different from most other AL clubs. Throw in a capable manager and a recondite and effective ken for identifying amateur talent, and you have a club that, for the money, is the junior circuit's finest throughout recent history.
And they're at it again. The Twins right now are 29-20, the best of the AL Wild Card scrum and first in the AL Central according to our third-order standings. There's a particularly appealing element to this year's team, and that's the historically rare command demonstrated by the pitching staff. At present, the Minnesota Twins are second in the AL in fewest runs allowed. Of course, there are dual components to run prevention--pitching and defense. Since the Twins rank "only" fourth in the AL in defensive efficiency, we can surmise that it's the pitching staff who's mostly cutting a wide swath through opposing lineups. In fact, the Twins' staff is on pace to set a handful of notable records this season. Let's take a look at these looming dalliances with history …
Twin pitchers currently have a cumulative strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.68, which would rather easily be the best mark since 1900. The current record belongs to the 2002 Diamondbacks, who posted a ratio of 3.10. If trends hold, the Twins' staff will better the Snakes K/BB ratio by 18.7%, which, by any reasonable standard, qualifies as "shattering the record." Also consider that the Twins have the presumptive disadvantage of facing DHs instead of pitchers in the opposing lineup.
There's perhaps more K/BB ratio history in the offing. The Twins' K/BB ratio is 186% of the league average K/BB ratio, which would be the second best "relative to league average" mark since 1900. The 1911 Giants hold the record with a ratio that was 187% of the league mean. That benchmark is very much within the hailing distance of the current Twins model.
What's interesting--astounding, actually--is that the Twins' hurlers are crafting this historically peerless ratio without the benefit of lofty strikeout totals. Minnesota presently ranks a mere 21st in the majors in pitcher strikeouts; however, their 79 walks as a staff is easily the best mark in the game. In other words, they're making hay by dint of their exacting control. In fact, Minnesota's staff-wide mark of 1.60 walks-per-nine would be the second-best figure since 1900, trailing only the 1904 Red Sox, who walked only 1.49 batters per nine frames. Relative to the league average, the Twins are on pace to have not only the best control staff since 1900, but also throughout the depth and breadth of extant baseball history. If we form a ratio of the league mean BB/9 to the team's BB/9, we find that the Twins' mark of 194% edges out the current record-setting mark, that of the 1880 Providence Grays, who boast a figure of 192%. So if trends hold, the '05 Twins will exhibit the best control of any staff in the annals of the game.
As such, it's not surprising that Minnesota may also be bound for a novelty record of sorts. At this writing, the Twins have two qualifying pitchers on pace to log more wins than walks for the season. I'm the last one to go to the rails for the evocative nature of pitcher wins and losses (probably the most nefarious of traditional baseball statistics because of the extending value judgments), but this fact does speak to the amazing control of the Twins' staff. To wit, Brad Radke is slated for 238 innings, 13 wins and 10 walks, and Carlos Silva is bound for 191 frames, 10 wins and a mere six (!) walks.
To frame the rare nature of this feat, here's a list of every qualifying pitcher since 1900 to pull off more wins than walks:
Pitcher Year/Team IP Wins Walks Christy Mathewson '13 Giants 306.0 25 21 Christy Mathewson '14 Giants 312.0 24 23 Slim Sallee '19 Reds 227.2 21 20 Bret Saberhagen '94 Mets 177.1 14 13And that's it. As you can see, no team has had two qualifiers turn the trick in the same season. In fact, only the 1918 Boston Braves had two pitchers log more wins than walks, but Bill Upham and Jake Northrop combined for only 60.2 innings on the season.
Now consider that the Twins have another pitcher--Jesse Crain--who currently has the same number of wins (five) as he does walks. That's potentially a third pitcher on the staff who could join the "wins > walks" fray. For that matter, Dave Gassner has as many wins as walks, but he's logged only 7.2 innings on the season.
In any event, the Minnesota pitching staff seems on an unswerving course for history. The control they've demonstrated as a staff is manifestly unprecedented, and it's about time we started appreciating them for it.